He could see people with a crown of thorns emblazoned on their uniforms rushing down the hill, trying to heave their way through a fumbling crowd of people attempting to get back into their homes. Stalls had been tipped, and some of the citizens - Herbs, Weeds - had fallen, and were now being trampled by other citizens and soldiers.
The soldiers didn’t stop to ask them if they were okay. They didn’t even look at them.
The soldiers are people who try to enforce this stupid class system, he seethed, but they’re trampling people like they consider them just as worthless as each other.
He started to run up the hill, ignoring a familiar voice as it called to him from the woods.
Poppy peered out of the trees, keeping a close eye on the small group of soldiers hurrying down the hill.
She had a couple of minutes, at most, to get into her home and get out and away with the children.
As she started to emerge, a familiar mop of dusty hair burst out of the door and glared up at the clutter. His whole body was tense; she could see pricks of blood around his palms, where his fingernails had broken skin.
“Kid!” She called, but her voice was hoarse and quiet for lack of use for a month. She didn’t stop to take a breath before she called again, much louder, “Oleander!”
But he was gone, running up the hill.
She edged to the corner of the building, keeping a close eye on him.
Inside, a tiny voice was crying. Poppy slowly opened the door.
“Poppy!” Pennyroyal cried, confined to a chair that wasn’t her wheelchair. Poppy was stunned to see the wheelchair nowhere in sight. “Get Oleander! He just ran off! Hellebore told us to stay here and bolt the door!”
Poppy frowned and glanced back up the hill - Oleander was nowhere to be seen.
With a shake of her head she prepared herself to forget him - she had to focus on what was here. There was no benefit to running into that mess now, it would only mean more would be lost than saved.
Heart pounding, she rushed into the room and heaved Pennyroyal into her arms, straining against the weight and wishing she’d paid more attention to physical fitness, and perhaps not threatened her life so often eating toxic plants.
Stumbling, she got the small girl out of the building, and practically fell into the woods.
Alongside her a row of yew trees sprouted, leading far away into the forest. She swallowed her fear and followed them, ignoring the dead men buried with the roots.
With Pennyroyal screaming in her ear for Oleander and Hellebore, she hurried deep into the woods, aiming to get somewhere far away, somewhere safe.
She could only hope that was where the yew trees were leading her.
Oleander dived into the crowd of the market in the highest part of the Weed Pit, where the people were only just beginning to flee back to their houses, and started to push through, beaten by flailing arms and elbows that belonged to people who assumed everything around them was a danger.
The bells seemed to be chiming for more than just a bad child.
When the first alley became available, he dived into it and started to weave through it, trusting his gut when he came to a split, aiming to go up.
His legs insisted that he should be turning around and running the other way - get Pennyroyal, get out, get away - but his heart pulsed with hope.
His mind screamed with anger, though, telling him he’d been betrayed, begging to see Hellebore, or anyone, so he could beat them to high hell.
He continued to run, fuelled by rage and hatred, though in the back of his mind he could still hear Pennyroyal’s hopeful voice, bursting with joy at the idea that maybe, maybe, someone was going to save them.
Whilst shaking the thought out of his head, he didn’t notice the man in the middle of the alley, and ran straight into him.
“Ouf!” The man gasped, as Oleander grunted and stumbled backwards.
Slowly, he looked up... and was greeted by a uniform emblazoned with a thorny crown. Oleander tried to leap away but the man grabbed the back of his shirt - a few stitches audibly splitting.
“Alright, kid, alright.” The man snickered, “You’re the one that lieutenant said stole something. Fancy finding you here, rather than in that pit of a house down there.”
Oleander stopped struggling - it was confirmed. Hellebore had told. Hellebore had been prepared to sell them out.
She promised to protect us, Oleander seethed. He looked back at the man, fire in his eyes.
He was skinny, not especially tall, young- the whiskers grew sparsely on his chin - and his eyes were ringed by black, like he’d stayed awake for a week. He was muttering to himself.
“I can see it now - father’ll be so proud of me.” He chuckled quietly, wrapping his bony hand around Oleander’s fore-arm. Then he dropped his voice in a mimic,“ ‘Well done, Nettle, my son. You were right, you are better than your dick of an older brother.’”
He turned his back and started to walk, continuing to mutter.
“All I want,” He fumed quietly to himself, “is a little ‘Well done for getting into the pesticide, Nettle’. I mean, it is the army of the Garden, it’s not a small thing. Is that too much to ask?”
For a few steps, Oleander complied with the tugging of the man, following quietly, but when he started whistling happily to himself about his catch, Oleander acted.
There was a knife in a hilt on the man’s leather belt... If he could just get it...
Oleander strained against the tug slightly, causing the man to lean backwards, and then drove his foot into his back. The man let go with a yelp and Oleander dove forward, sliding the knife from his belt whilst he was distracted. As the man struggled to regain his posture, Oleander ducked closer and elbowed his chest. Startled, the man fell, and Oleander fell onto his knees on the man’s chest to keep him pinned.
He’d been planning on threatening him, but this man wouldn’t understand his signs, and he couldn’t sound threatening with his tongue missing.
There was every chance this man was going to go and run and get a whole army to chase him if he let him go, and any minute his surprise at being knocked over by a child would wear off and Oleander would lose his chance.
There was only one choice...
Oleander swallowed and grabbed the man’s hair, pushing the knife against his throat.
The man seemed to realise what was happening, and started to yell for help.
The noise prickled against Oleander’s skin, rattling his bones with irritation- he had to go, he had to go now, he didn’t have any more time to waste being caught by people!
When he dragged the knife along the man’s throat and reduced him to a choking mess, he was barely fazed.
He quickly stole the man’s belt, put it on it’s tightest and hid it under his baggy top, sliding the knife back into place, and started running again.